Phillipine theater rises today for an ovation to honor a cultural milestone that began 80 years ago.
In the early 1930s, the Far Eastern University was a young, promising school moving forward on the strength of its academic and non-academic programs. Dr. Nicanor Reyes Sr. originally founded FEU (which began as the institute of Accounting, Business and Finance) to elevate and Filipinize the accounting profession. He succeeded and the university prospered.
In 1934, the young teacher Sarah Kabigting (later Sarah K. Joaquin) asked Dr. Reyes to allow her to organize a theatre guild for aspiring actors. Dr. Nick Reyes (who taught Sarah at the University of the Philippines and later asked her to teach at FEU) liked the idea. A man with a passion for numbers and statistics, he was also a man of letters, an advocate of art and culture, liberal arts and the humanities.
The drama guild attracted many students and became a popular extracurricular activity on the campus. Honors showered on FEU as the guild competed and won major prizes at intercollegiate drama competitions.
Sarah Joaquin—a teacher, linguist, actress, director, drama coach and speech specialist—taught her students the values of discipline, professionalism and character, the art of drama characterization, interpretation and motivation. The discipline of the theatre, she also told her students, was a good preparation for life and fulltime vocations.
The FEU drama guild inspired the building of the university auditorium. It was the finest hall in its time with its modern sound and lighting systems, preceding the rise of the Cultural Center of the Phillipines and the Philam Auditorium on Isaac Peral, (now United Nations Ave.).
The FEU auditorium quickly became the cultural hub of Manila, at a time when the capital city had no prosperous suburbs to contend with. The capacious, world-class hall on Morayta St. (now Nicanor Reyes) gathered international artists and outstanding Filipino talent, the preferred venue for the performing arts: theatre, ballet, concerts, recitals, film festivals, operas and zarzuelas.
Eighty years of performance and production have produced a rich harvest of outstanding alumni who have excelled in theatre, music, academe, cinema, radio, TV and the other creative professions. They include Rustica Carpio, Eddie Ilarde, Vicky Oliveros-Orara, Joan Orendain, Jeanne Rader-Bas, Tessie Hernandez-Batacan, Ben Bernales, Ray Pedroche, Nick Agudo, Johnny Wilson, Frankie Evangelista, Pete Roa, Dado Roa, Bert “Tawa” Marcelo and Butch Josue, among others.
Tonight, the university, through its President’s Committee on Culture and the Arts, will honor the founder and the pioneers of the FEU Theatre Guild with a commemorative program at the historic auditorium. The awards will be probably effusive but well-deserved. The nostalgia will be overwhelming but becoming for the Grand Old Dame of Philippine theatre.